Tag Archives: Jim Lea

Single review: Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody

Brash, colourful, over the top, glittery – 1970s glam rock and Christmas seemed made for each other. Yet glam had been in ascendancy for some two years before anyone contemplated putting the two together. And more than anyone else, we can thank Slade for that. From the familiar pounding on the harmonium in the opening bars to the final “It’s Christmaaaas!” Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody remains one of the most well-known and most popular Christmas records of all time. The Performing Rights Society calculate that it is the world’s most listened to song, heard by an estimated 42% of the global population.

Recorded in New York in the summer of 1973, Noddy Holder told Uncut magazine recently that he wanted the lyrics to convey a mood of optimism. The song certainly does that. But at the time of recording it, the band would have little clue as to how grim things were going to get in Britain that particular winter. Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath’s increasingly fractious battle with the miners took a dramatic turn. Mineworkers, like all public employees at the time were suffering the effects of below-inflation pay increases at a time of hyper inflation, and were pursuing industrial action for higher pay. Regular domestic power cuts became a fact of life.

Merry Xmas Everybody was released on 7th December 1973. On 12th December Heath announced that in order to conserve coal stocks, as from midnight on 31st December the Government would be enforcing a three-day week. Companies were to be permitted to consume electricity only on three consecutive days per week, additional working hours were to be banned and TV companies were required to cease broadcasting at 10.30pm each night. This was the Christmas in which Slade’s Merry Christmas was first unleashed on to the public.

It’s a groundbreaking Christmas song in a number of ways. Unlike the treacly nostalgia of previous Christmas classics, Holder and Lea managed to capture the essence of a working class family Christmas:

Are you waiting for the family to arrive
Are you sure you’ve got the room to spare inside
Does your granny always tell you
That the old songs are the best
Then she’s up and rock ‘n’ rolling with the rest

That was combined with a genuine spirit of bright, breezy optimism:

So here it is Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun
Look to the future now, it’s only just begun

There is a freshness about the way that hookline is delivered that still sounds fresh even today. “In terms of comfort we shall have a harder Christmas than we have known since the war,” Heath declared ominously. But while it might be argued that anything Slade recorded at that particular time in pop history was destined for the Number 1 slot anyway, there was something marvellously subversive about Slade’s Christmas single being the best selling record at the time. People singing along to a chorus that celebrates having fun and looking to the future during the middle of a heated political stand-off, a major breakdown in industrial relations, a draconian response from government and a very bleak-looking New Year indeed.

The three-day week came into force on New Years Day 1974. The Christmas song that was the antidote to it remained at Number 1 until well into the middle of January. In fact, it was February before it dropped out of the charts. As the chorus makes clear, the song is very much a song for the New Year – looking ahead to the future – and not simply one about Christmas.

The Government’s battle with the miners continued to intensify and, refusing to back down, Heath called an election in February 1974. “Who governs Britain?” demanded Heath. “Not you!” the voters told him. He lost the election and embarked on what became known as the longest sulk in British political history. The National Union of Mineworkers secured their pay rise, returned to work and lived to fight another day. But they would be brutally smashed by the Thatcher Government a decade later and Britain’s pit communities decimated. Whatever the battles of the past, the challenge of climate change, of course, means that the only sensible coal policy today is to leave the rest of it in the ground.

Yet Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody lives on, outliving the three-day week, Ted Heath, the miners and (in its original formation) even the band itself. That celebration of working class life in the festive season and the bright sunny optimism for a better future ahead still makes it the greatest Christmas song ever recorded.

It’s Christmaaaaaas!!!

http://www.slade.uk.com/

MXE

Previous live review: Slade at Minehead

Slade at Giants of Rock, Minehead 8/2/15

August 22nd 1981. Donington Monsters of Rock festival. My first ever live gig, first ever festival and still (by a mile) my favourite, mainly because of the unbelievable impact that Slade had on the 65,000 strong crowd.

Thirty-odd years and many Slade concerts later I’m in front of the stage at Minehead Butlins to witness yet another Slade performance. As the writers of Merry Xmas Everybody and a slew of other number 1 hits, Noddy Holder and Jim Lea are long gone; enjoying what must be a very comfortable retirement from the music scene. Guitarist, Dave Hill, and drummer, Don Powell, remain though, still belting out the songs their erstwhile band members wrote. These days they are joined by Mal McNulty and John Berry who replace Nod and Jim respectively.

Slade fans are divided about this modern-day version of Slade. While some see it as a welcome venture to keep the songs and music alive, others see it as an undignified travesty which has done nothing but sully the name of a once-great band.

If truth be told the band were starting to get a bit frayed around the edges in recent years. Of the 2012 and 2013 joint Slade/Sweet tours many commented that the former were considerably outshone by the musicianship and professionalism of the latter. However, tonight’s Slade performance is tight, together and fizzing with energy. You can never beat the original Slade and the Holder-Hill-Lea-Powell Slade will always be irreplaceable. Nevertheless, the band before us are on form and whether it’s died-in-the-wool Slade supporters or more generic rock fans there is certainly an enthusiastic audience for this version of Slade tonight.

Opening with a rocking version of Gudbuy T’ Jane the crowd are singing along and buzzing. They’ve freshened up their setlist a bit, too, giving some of the 80s hits a rest and bringing in lesser known 1977 cover My Baby Left Me to the set. Take Me Bak ‘Ome, Coz I Luv You, Far Far Away and Mama Weer All Crazee Now are all there, though, as are Dave Hill’s colourful over-the-top stage antics throughout. He preens, he goofs around, he milks the crowd’s appreciation. But he doesn’t let it detract from giving faithful renditions of the guitar solos familiar to anyone who has the original recordings. Powell’s drumming is as powerful as ever and an intrinsic part of the Slade sound. Vocal duties these days are split between McNulty and Berry, who now takes on lead vocals on some of the slower numbers. McNulty’s range is never going to match Holder’s and there was talk of him vacating the vocalist slot altogether. This new job-share arrangement seems to work, however. One area where no member of the new Slade is ever going to live up to the original, though, is when it comes to the electric violin solo on Coz I Luv You. Berry’s tuneless scratching is something quite different indeed from what we used to hear from the classically-trained Lea, but you have to hand it to him for at least being game enough to try.

It was all over far too soon, sadly, and before we knew it they were brought back for a riotous encore of Cum On Feel The Noize. No Merry Xmas this time of the year, though. (You’ll have to wait til around October before they start playing that again…)

Is Slade still Slade without Noddy? Should Dave and Don still be going out under that name? For me the answer is simple. I carry on going to Slade concerts to experience those great songs in a live setting, to have an evening that is never less than huge fun and, importantly, to show my support to two men who have now worked together for over fifty years. Whether you appreciate what Hill and Powell are doing these days or not, Slade is something they’ve given their lives too.  That’s got to be worth celebrating.

Setlist:

1. Gudbuy T’ Jane
2. Take Me Bak ‘Ome
3. Lock Up Your Daughters
4. Look Wot You Dun
5. Everyday
6. Coz I Luv You
7. Run Runaway
8. Far Far Away
9. My Baby Left Me
10. Mama Weer All Crazee Now
11. Get Down and Get With It/Tutti Fruitti
12. Cum On Feel The Noize

http://www.slade.uk.com/

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